author photo

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

Cuba’s Vanishing Culinary Traditions

November 12, 2014 |

Dulce. Photo: cubasolar.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Last night, my neighbor treated me to a homemade dessert that left me speechless – a true delicacy. Her husband had brought a bit of cow’s milk from the countryside and, using half of it, she made a curdled milk sweet. I hadn’t seen or tasted this dessert for quite some time, because of how hard it is to get one’s hand on milk or any of its derivatives.

This is my favorite of all homemade desserts. The milk is curdled using a few tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar. Sugar and the condiments of one’s choice (cinnamon, vanilla and lemon peels) are then added. The mixture is placed over a slow fire and stirred occasionally. When the syrupy mix begins to stick to one’s fingers, one or two beat yokes are added (or so my mother’s recipe says).

The look, smell and taste of many traditional Cuban dishes have receded to the depths of my mind. I recall they would make these desserts at home, particularly the ones with milk, while my brother and I would hover about my mother or grandmother, waiting for those delicacies to be made. Their smell tempted even those women who were on a diet, so you can imagine their effect on children.

Pudding – one of the culinary marks left on Cuba by the British in 1762 – was a traditional Cuban dish until recently. It was one of the desserts one saw on the menu of a food stand or cafeteria at the end of the 1990s. You don’t see that anymore because of how expensive the ingredients are. What about custard? This, yet another delicacy of homemade Cuban cuisine, has left the home and retreated to hard currency stores, to say nothing of the flavors one comes across today.

Some of the foreigners who visit our country show an interest in traditional Cuban dishes. They even bring books with them and, seeing that there’s nothing in the markets, ask how it is we manage to make those dishes. Faced with this situation, one has no choice but to explain to them what the reality is.

Many of these culinary traditions have ceased to be traditions. It is impossible to make many of these dishes, and this particular dessert is one among the many we’ve lost. The worst part is that, when we tell young people about these things, they don’t know what we’re talking about. “Old folk stuff,” they call it.

Share this:

What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    There is a joke in Cuba, “What are the three worst things about the Cuban revolution…..breakfast, lunch and dinner”. It is so sad that a country with ample land for cultivation, a tropical climate and an available workforce is unable to feed itself with the basics, let alone tasty desserts.

  • Griffin

    That dish is known as “flan” in any Cuban restaurant in the US or Canada.

    Cuban Flan Recipe

    ½ cup sugar

    Squeeze of lemon juice

    1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

    1 can of water

    1 tablespoon Vanilla extract

    1 whole egg, lightly beaten

    4 egg yolks, lightly beaten

    Cinnamon

    Caramel Coating:

    1) Heat the sugar with a few drops of water in a small saucepan with a squeeze of lemon juice and let it cook but do NOT stir. Move the pan around until it gets to a nice golden brown.

    – See more at: http://www.mybigfatcubanfamily.com/my_big_fat_cuban_family/el-flan-de-la-reina.html#sthash.dtYtuZsz.dpuf

    • informed Consent

      Thankfully much of Cuban culture, including our culinary traditions, have been preserved by the Cuban diaspora in Miami and elsewhere. There will come a time when we shall return them to their former home! How sad that Cuban culture is no longer to be found in Cuba. Another gift of the Castros

      • Griffin

        Yoani Sanchez wrote about how she was moved to tears when she enjoyed the best Cuban home cooking she ever tasted …during her visit to Miami.

        Not only Cuban cooking has been lost on the island: much great Cuban literature is banned as well.